1997-2003 BMW 525i

Greg Anderson
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0108 Bmw 525i 01

Ann Arbor - When rear-seat occupants start complaining about a numb, tingly sensation in their lower limbs, it's time to upgrade to a mid-size sedan. Thanks to some recent engine development at Bavarian Motor Works, loyal 3-series buyers now may hop into a 5-series without paying much of a premium ($35,400 for the 5 versus $33,990 for the 3).

This year, BMW increased the size and output of its mainstream in-line six from 2.8 liters and 193 horsepower to 3.0 liters and 225 horsepower, recasting the 528i as the 530i. However, since the 2.5-liter six in the 325i now makes 184 horsepower, only nine fewer than last year's 2.8-liter engine, a 525i is again a viable model for the American market.

In fact, the 525i is expected to account for one-third of the 5-series' total sales this year, or about 15,000 units. Martin Birkmann, product manager for the 5-series, admits that some buyers will choose the mid-size 525i over the compact 330i, but the hope is that the total number of buyers considering a BMW will grow.

The 5-series range now starts at just under $36,000, undercutting last year's 528i by $3500. Our test car came equipped with a five-speed Steptronic manu-matic transmission and the Sport package, which includes seventeen-inch alloy wheels on 235/45WR-17 tires and a tightly tuned suspension. Coupled with the Steptronic transmission, the 525i does not jump out of the gate, but power is strong at the engine's upper reaches, providing ample acceleration when it matters: merging onto freeways. Shift points are smooth, hanging in all the way to redline, though a true manual is preferable, from both acceleration and financial standpoints (a savings of $1275, to be exact).

With the economy on a downward slope, the timing is perfect for a less expensive 5-series model. The 525i will help stretch the dollar and let teenagers and in-laws stretch their legs.

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